Following our NHS investigations, David Aaronovitch in an opinion piece in The Times a couple of weeks ago attacked our recommendation that NHS volunteers should be DBS checked. Too bureaucratic and too off-putting by half etc. Like many people, Aaronovitch probably assumes that volunteers fit the well-established stereotype of one or two well-meaning people manning the tea bar for a couple of hours a week.
However, in some trusts volunteering has undergone a transformation in the last three or four years. One London teaching hospital now has 1,750 active volunteers, the vast majority of whom are students aged between 16 and 21. Seventy percent of those volunteers befriend patients or provide some other much needed service to them. Put bluntly, volunteers are on the front line and up close and personal to patients. They are supervised but no one would suggest that this can be all the time.
In this particular trust, volunteers improve the experience of patients enormously. They are selected, inducted and managed with great care and attention. They are also DBS checked through an online process that is free other than for a small administrative fee. Interestingly, the trust added 250 volunteers to its numbers during the course of our work. The trust’s experience seems to be that checking on volunteers doesn’t stop them offering their services, far from it in fact.